The Cardinals' pitching success has been precisely calibrated to lure us into a false sense of—well, not security, exactly, but of sequencing. Problems and solutions have followed one after the other, each a seemingly perfect fit, so that when the Cardinals found themselves with room for just one fifth starter after Jake Westbrook's return the competition was left to Tyler Lyons and Michael Wacha alone.
Joe Kelly? He's never been a problem or a solution, which has left him with little to do but sit in the bullpen and dream of pinch-running for somebody. So it's only fitting that his most important gig yet came immediately after the Cardinals' rotation sprung another leak; now he's the most obvious solution to the Tyler Lyons Problem.
Which is not to say that he wasn't an obvious solution, and Lyons an obvious problem, before Friday night. This is actually an important sportsblogger skill, for future reference: Snap out of a group delusion and then do your best, while everyone else is staring groggily into space and trying to remember how they ended up in that flattened cornfield, to give the impression that you've just stumbled upon them there, having been totally lucid the whole time.
"What are you guys doing here?" you should say. "I was just taking a walk around town, totally lucid the whole time, when I saw you weirdos marching in lockstep toward that blinding light. You were saying something about Tyler Lyons making more sense in the rotation than Joe Kelly, I think?"
Lyons actually has more impressive minor league peripherals than Kelly, and he's a little older, too—they're a weird set of pitchers to compare, in that sense. The one with the low strikeout rate throws extremely hard, the one who just got called up after a quick rise through the minor leagues is older than the one who's been around forever, etc.
But Joe Kelly is the one who's already successfully played the Joe Kelly role—the not-quite-a-prospect who sidles into the rotation when all the prospects are already otherwise occupied. His peripherals have been Good Enough, and his stuff is considerably better than that.
He's the perfect caddy for Michael Wacha, and—a couple of starts late—he's probably going to get a chance to play that role.